Category: Nepal


Marpha- and a little Jomsom

The town of Marpha from the road

The town of Marpha from the road

Our favorite city in Nepal, although we only spent a short time there, was the town of Marpha. Marpha is an amazing town, it is built with rocks and set up on the hill side. No cars can drive in the town because the walkways are too narrow.

The dining area at our guest house

The dining area at our guest house

 

 

It is a smaller rural town that has many apple orchards and specializes in apple products.I do not even like apple juice, but the apple cider I drank in Marpha was incredibly delicious! We arrived late at night and luckily our driver knew some friends who run a hotel/guesthouse in the town. The man who owns the rooms walked the mile down to the road to lead us back to his place, which we never would have found in the dark! He was even gracious enough of a host to start the fire back up in his stove and make us a late night, utterly delicious, spaghetti dinner.

Marpha street

Marpha street

Marpha Nepali boy

Marpha Nepali bo

Marpha trees

Marpha trees

Marpha- our room was the one in bottom left corner- this is the view from the courtyard.

Marpha- our room was the one in bottom left corner- this is the view from the courtyard.

Our rooms in the hotel were much better than we anticipated. They had two small twin mattresses/pads set up on a raised box platform with on-suite bathrooms. There was even “hot” water. Hot being a loose term, but when the air temperature gets down to 20 degrees at night, a little better than luke warm feels just fine. After we slept (cuddled in our sleeping bags cause it was cold!) we woke up to a beautiful Himalayan day.

We were told that the hike up to Jomsom (the town with the airport), was only about an hour hike. Maybe this was a fair estimate for really awesomely intense Neplai hikers, but it took us nearly 3 hours. Granted, we did stop a lot, as usual, to take many photos and it ended up being a fairly warm day. The hike was fun, maybe a bit dusty if cars drove by, but the mountains were stunning so we really could not complain.

Random small town between Mapha and Jomsom

Random small town between Mapha and Jomsom

View while hiking from Marpha to Jomsom

View while hiking from Marpha to Jomsom

more river view

more river view

Dusty, kind of yucky local bus. It was CRAZY crowded!

Dusty, kind of yucky local bus. It was CRAZY crowded

Once in Jomsom we talked to the airline people to try and get tickets and then we grabbed lunch at a small hotel or guesthouse. It was a nice relaxing day, but we decided not to hike back, so we took a local bus instead. The bus was insanely crowded, very dusty, and quite uncomfortable. This is when I knew that Tony and I would be finding Dhan again the next day if we could not get a flight (No way was I spending over 10 hours on the slower, more unsafe, way more uncomfortable bus to get back to Pokhara).

Jomsom- an expedition just coming through town

Jomsom- an expedition just coming through town

Jomsom- the main road through town.

Jomsom- the main road through town.

Tony decided to hike back to try and get some sunset pictures with the mountains. I was worried when it took him so long, but he was stopped on the way back by a little group of kids that just loved getting their photos taken. Tony said that the kids thought it was the coolest thing to get their picture taken and then be able to look at it on the LCD screen.

Nepali kiddos

Nepali kiddos

Annapurna area, small town between Marpha and Jomsom-- close to sunset

Annapurna area, small town between Marpha and Jomsom– close to sunset

Cute Nepali girl Tony saw on his hike

Cute Nepali girl Tony saw on his hike

Cute girl in Marpha

Cute girl in Marpha

While Tony was gone I of course did some shopping. I was able to talk to this woman who lived in Marpha and handmade jewelry to sell. I watched her work on a piece and it was pretty incredible. The jewelry was made out of bone and horns from mountain goats. She would shave and cut the horn into beads and then hand paint each one. It was really nice to buy something 100% authentic and not “made in China”.

As I said, we did not get nearly as much time as we wanted in Marpha, but I will let the photos of this area and this quaint town speak for itself. Tony and I can’t wait to go back to Nepal. Next time, however, we will have more than just 10 mere days and we will get some real trekking in. :)

Annapurna

Annapurna

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Getting around Nepal

Well it is pretty obvious that blogging consistently is not my calling. Sorry- I have no excuses and no more promises. Tony and I have been on four more vacations since Nepal and now I am VERY behind. Unfortunately I am one of those people who must go in order. I cannot simply just stop where I am at in Nepal and pick up with say our Paris trip from last month. So- I am determined to blog more frequently, but- no promises J. I will be enlisting Tony to help me catch up, so now you will get to hear from both of us. So- let’s start where I left off: Travel in Nepal.

We were fortunate enough to use every mode of transportation available in the small country of Nepal. Jeeps, taxis, airplanes, buses, motorcycles, canoes, and our own two feet! I guess this is not every transport available because we never did ride a horse, but I would say we did pretty well. In Nepal you are not allowed to rent your own vehicle, so from Kathmandu to Pokhara we hired a jeep to take us the 6 hours through beautiful country. It was fun to see the different Nepali towns as we drove.

Sweet bridge we found while driving- it was fun to check it out!

Sweet bridge we found while driving- it was fun to check it out!

Small town we stopped at to stretch our legs for a bit

Small town we stopped at to stretch our legs for a bit

The roads we took were paved, but much skinnier than we were used to. Luckily we only got in one accident, which was not our fault. It actually shouldn’t even count as a real accident because we barely hit the car in front of us because there was a scooter in the road just stopped and the car in front of us could not stop quickly enough. There was a lot of yelling involved between the two cars and scooter drivers and after about 2 minutes every local person in the area walked over to see what was going on. We all got a lot of interesting looks and I guess I felt a little bit like a zoo animal on display. All went well and we were off in only about 15 minutes. I have no idea what was decided in the end, but everyone drove off- so I assume it all worked out okay.

In Pokhara we used several taxis, many of which I was worried wouldn’t quite make it up the hills and of course our canoes on the lake. In our original travel plans we had booked a small plane to take us from Pokhara to Jomsom, a high elevation town in the Anapurna range. We arrived to the airport early and were told that our flight was delayed. The word “delayed” is never good when talking about small planes flying into big mountains. The super early flight had not left yet and we were told that due to the very high winds in Jomsom they could not risk landing any plane up there.

the runway at Pokhara airport

the runway at Pokhara airport

Baggage system at Pokhara airport-- high tech :)

Baggage system at Pokhara airport– high tech :)

Pokhara airport

Pokhara airport

Of course, they figured the wind would die down and we could just wait a few hours and still be able to fly out. As with most airline delays, this was of course not the case. We ended up spending almost 6 hours at the airport before they cancelled all Jomsom flights for the day and refunded our money. Unfortunately all flights for the next day were booked and we would not be able to fly out for another 2 days.

hanging out at the airport

hanging out at the airport

This is the time when I advise you to always have a back-up plan. If you ever travel to Nepal- do one of two things 1: have a back-up plan in case your travel arrangements do not work out. Research something else you can do in the area that you may enjoy just as much as your original idea. –or- 2: Go to Nepal with several more days than you think you need. If you plan on doing a trek and you think you need 10 days, just plan 13-15 days. This way you can stick to your original plan and enjoy your vacation to the fullest, even if your travel plans are changed.

We did not have a back-up plan and we did not have extra days. After we left the airport we were tired and desperately needed lunch. We wandered around a bit and talked in circles about what we should do. Finally, after much debate, we decided to try and make our way up to Jomsom by car or bus. I think we had our hearts set on getting up to the small mountain towns even though it wasn’t entirely practical for us to do so at this point. We were able to hire another jeep to take us up the mountain; unfortunately we had no idea what we were really getting ourselves into and it cost us much more than our plane ticket.

the road- un-paved

the road- un-paved

Our driver Dhan was awesome! He was a safe driver and made very good time (all things considered). Let me start by describing the road. For about 90 minutes we had the “luck” to be on paved roads. Paved is a loose term; we still crossed many streams, pot-holes, and loose gravel sections.

The trick is I had no idea that was the good part! After this 90 minute journey through the Pokhara valley and beginning of the Annapurna range, we started on the “no black top” canyon road. We could not go over about 25mph the next five and a half hours. The road was, needless to say, terrible.

the road behind us

the road behind us

Terrible and somewhat terrifying. The canyon road was quite skinny with lots of curves and always going up. There were always larger buses passing us going down and sometimes there just wasn’t enough room for both. The best part of the trip came when we came upon a line of stopped jeeps and buses on one of the passes. Up ahead the next bend there was an SUV with a broken axle. Yup, a broken axle and he was taking up so much room no one could pass on either side. Good times.

So- all the men in the buses, Tony and Jared, and other SUVs got out and basically lifted the broken car up and pushed it up farther onto the side of the mountain, so there was just enough room to get by. This worked well, but it was a little tricky getting all the cars past because there were so many of us stopped, not to mention it was pitch-black nighttime. (Unfortunately because it was so dark, we don’t have any pictures of this event that you can really see, but it was as close as the above photo- from earlier on our drive). We finally made it to Marpha, a small town just south of Jomsom with headaches and sore backs, but we didn’t fall off the side of the mountain, so all in all it ended well.

Yes- Passing this close happened several times on our drive.

Yes- Passing this close happened several times on our drive.

The next morning we hiked about 2 hours to Jomsom to try and book flight back to Pokhara for the next day. Unfortunately they only had two available spots, so we let our friends take the tickets and the next day we went to the airport to try and see if someone might miss their flight. We did not have another 3 hours to hike from Marpha back to Jomsom, so of course we just paid some boys in Marpha to give us a ride on their motorcycles. Riding on a motorcycle while wearing your overnight back during the sunrise was quite the awesome experience! It was a little scary on the dirt roads, but very exhilarating and in some ways even a little peaceful. Actually, and I think Tony would agree, it was one of our favorite experiences: Riding on a motorcycle during the peaceful sunrise in the Himalayan mountain, quite surreal.

lunch!

view from lunch

So another morning was spent in a tiny little airport and of course everyone showed up and Tony and I went to hire Dhan for our jeep ride back down. I think that driving in the day was a much better plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary when you could see and we were able to stop along the way and take a lot of pictures and eat lunch in a fun little town.

a small school we drove past

a small school we drove past

On the way down we were able to get to know Dhan a little better. Two fun facts(aka FFs): 1- Dhan used to live and work in Doha as a security guard (he didn’t like it), small world huh?! 2- We asked Dhan “So- do buses ever fall off the cliff?” (thinking it would be reasonably rare) and he responded “Oh yeah (as if it weren’t that big of a deal), Like 20 a year.” WHAT?! Good thing we were on our way down and almost out of the canyon…. Also good thing we did not go cheap and ride the bus. In the end I would say we actually enjoyed the jeep ride back down because we were able to appreciate the scenery and enjoy the mountains we had come to spend time in. Luckily for us, we were able to fly out of Pokhara back to Kathmandu and we could say goodbye to long car travel for a while (at least until Sri Lanka in December). Here are some scenery photos from our day-time drive…..

Once we came upon two buses in a row--- look at all the dust they left behind!

Once we came upon two buses in a row— look at all the dust they left behind!

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

More scenery

More scenery

All in all our travel experience in Nepal was just part of the adventure. It was not like traveling or driving anywhere else in the world. I think that is part of the charm of the country. It is something to be patient and very flexible about, but also something to be enjoyed. It makes a fun story, and good memories.

Pokhara

Sorry for the wait….. I will be more consistent, I promise!

Pokhara, Nepal. This was a very fun little city and trekker trap. During our trip we were in Pokhara for 2 days and then an extra day and a half before flying back to Kathmandu, we ended up spending more time here than we originally planned due to some cancelled travel arrangements (stay tuned for that story in a few days).

Sampada Inn

View from the terrace

View from the terrace

We arrived in Pokhara by jeep from Kathmandu. After a 6hour ride, we were ready to rest up. We were lucky to stay just off of the main road, Lakeside, in an awesome hotel, Sampada Inn. The beds here were much more comfortable than the ones in Kathmandu, and we had a fun view of the city and surrounding mountains. It didn’t hurt that the staff was kind and very helpful as well.

Pokhara street Pokhara Street2  Lakeside is a fun street with shops, restaurants, and trekking offices everywhere! No matter which way you started walking you could easily find all types of food (in fact most restaurants served a very wide variety), lots of souvenirs and hand made Nepali crafts, and all the knock-  off NorthFace trekking gear your heart could ever desire. We had so much fun wandering the street to shop and eat, it was very relaxing.

True to its name, Lakeside is next to…… you guessed it….. a giant Lake! Beautiful mountains surround the lake and it wasn’t full of jet-skis or large boats pulling water skiers.  One evening we decided to rent a canoe for several hours and we paddled our way across to the other bank to try and get a different angle to take pictures of the sunset. Where we could actually land our canoe our view of the mountains was blocked, so we ended up going out to the middle of the lake to get some photos and enjoy the evening light as it faded behind the mountains.

Lake_pokhara  Lake_pokhara4  Lake_pokhara3

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

Although the shore was crowded with people and shops along the shore, as well as several canoes in the water, it remained peaceful and somehow serene.

Another enjoyable thing we did in Pokhara was the Sarangkot sunrise. There is this small mountain that looks over the lake on one side and the breathtaking Himalayan range on the other. We hired a taxi to drive us up to the small town on Sarangkot. After he dropped us off we hiked for another 30 minutes or so to reach the top. On the way up you hike on this trail that goes past small Nepali houses and huts. It is so dark you can’t see very far and you wonder how many more “stairs” you will need to climb and how much further you really need to go.

DSC_1743            DSC_1730               DSC_1738.

After hiking by flashlight for about 20min a gray light starts to cover everything and its just enough for you to see ahead of you, but not enough to see what is off the side of the mountain. Close to the very top there is a small Buddhist shrine and the only about 50 stairs left. At the top of the stairs there is this fantastically old arch, and the scene behind it was breathtaking. All this time hiking in the dark I had no idea the mountain were that “close”. It was incredible to have your view through this arch be fully encompassed with mountain, no sky, no ground, just huge giant mountains. As you finish the hike and find a spot to sit on the viewing platform, just in time, the sun starts to peak up over the hills and light the Himalayas in an incredible way! It was beautiful and I am actually happy I woke up early to see it.

DSC_1719  DSC_1716   DSC_1714 DSC_1728   DSC_1725   DSC_1734

DSC_1873   DSC_1867

On our extra day in Pokhara, before heading back to Kathmandu we actually did Sarangkot again for sunset. We didn’t go all the way to the top, but found a nice little field off behind this man’s house that he let us use. It was again, beautiful to sit and take in the scenery as the sun went down.

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

Later that night we began our shopping. We didn’t want to buy anything on our first 2 days in the city, because we didn’t have much space to carry souvenirs in our overnight backpacks, and we did not want to have the extra weight for any hiking we might do. So—we crammed all shopping into the evening and next morning before our flight. It was fun to look for scarves, jewelry, art, etc. We were able to buy several fun/good quality things for not too much money…. Unlike the souvenirs in Mexico- that always feel cheap and half of them are made in China ;) It was nice to buy some things that were truly locally made by Nepali people.

Overall, Pokhara is a fun town to shop and dine. Although we had more time here than anticipated (and maybe didn’t do as much hiking as we wanted) it was a good place to spend our time and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

*I promise to blog again in 3 days! Up next Travel in Nepal- scary and harrowing jeep rides through unpaved canyon roads…..

Kathmandu

It has been a very long time since I have written. Sorry about that! I must say, it has been with good reason. At the end of October we were lucky enough to go on holiday in Nepal. We spent 9 days in the country and it was beautiful! We absolutely loved it. It was a long enough trip that I won’t be able to fit it all into one blog post. So- I will write several different posts on what we learned during our time in Nepal.

For this first segment I will write about Kathmandu. We spent the first and last nights of our trip in Kathmandu. It was a whirlwind, but very interesting! Kathmandu is a fun mix of lots of cultures and people. The most prominent seemed to be Buddhist, Hindu, Indian, and Asian influences all mixed into one city.  The city does not really have any skyscrapers, but covers a large area and is very compact. Many streets were more like dirt alleyways and some buildings seemed to be built on top of one another. It is important to note that Nepal is a very developing country- as such, Kathmandu did not seem very organized and it was quite dirty. It didn’t seem like there was any government-run trash collection or maybe it was just the culture, but there was trash everywhere! Littering is obviously not against the law.

So- on our first day in Kathmandu we checked into a great little hotel. The mattresses were hard, but the room was clean and we had our own bathroom. The hotel also had an adorable little courtyard and fun character. You know you are in a different country when the lock on your hotel room is a padlock with accompanying key. We took the red-eye flight into Kathmandu, so the first order of business was a nap! It was very tricky to sleep with the sounds of the city (not something we are used to in our quiet Doha neighborhood). Also- it was festival time in Nepal, and I am pretty sure a parade went by our hotel at some point- at least I don’t think I was dreaming that-.

The main stupa

Rumored to be 365 steps to the top…. I didn’t count them

After a nap, we got a cab to take us to the famous Monkey Temple, also known as Swayambhunath. There are several entrances to get to this temple because it is located on a very large hill. My calves were burning by the time we climbed the stairs to the top! On the way it was fun to see the monkeys climbing all over the different statues and trees. These monkeys are considered sacred and they definitely run the show. Once we reached the top the view of the city and surrounding mountains was incredible.                                                                                                         I particularly loved seeing the colored flags that are synonymous with Nepal. A “practicing monk” told us that the colors stand for the elements and that prayers are written on them. The flags are then hung as a constant prayer that is meant to be spread by the wind as a benefit to the surrounding area and all people.

I say “practicing monk” in quotes because we are not entirely sure he was. Our little friend offered to take us around the entire Temple to practice his English and work on talking to different people as part of his “training”. Haha! He was a very nice boy and ended up walking us to places we most likely would not have wandered to on our own. At the end, he asked us to buy some milk and biscuits for the kids staying at the monastery. Of course we would help buy food for the children! Unfortunately that particular powdered milk and old cookies must have been the BEST in all of Nepal! The man tried to charge us silly Americans $40 a piece—yes 4,000 rupees!! Hahaha We of course said no, but ended up giving them $20 anyways. I blame the red-eye flight and lack of sleep…. But what is a visit to a developing country if you don’t get taken advantage of?! Ha ha. Anyways- back to the temple…..

Long Life and Wisdom

Around the Stupa there were these spinning prayer wheels. We were told that you always visit the temple and spin these wheels in a clockwise direction. Spinning the prayer wheel is meant to be the same as saying or reading the prayer. Our “monk-in-training” friend said that the prayer wheels around the Stupa at the monkey temple were prayers for a long life and wisdom.

We really enjoyed the cultural uniqueness of the monkey temple and seeing all of the different types of people who were there to visit it. Did we get attacked my monkeys? Almost. Did we get swindled by our “practicing monk” friend? Of course! Did our taxi know where our hotel was to take us back? No. We did, however, have a good time and it was nice to see a little bit of Kathmandu.

At the end of the trip we came back to Kathmandu after spending a fantastic time away. It was just as dirty and the driving was just as bad! We stayed in a different hotel that was truly fantastic! The Kathmandu Temple house was amazing. The architecture was stunning and they were an establishment that cared about being eco-friendly. Mineral water was provided in every room and bubblers were located in the lobby for us to re-fill our water bottles. (This seems silly, but when you read the rest of my posts you will see how this is incredibly unique). The food here was delicious, and the courtyard was a quiet, clean oasis apart from the rest of Kathmandu.

               

That night, Tony and I took another scary cab ride from this hotel to visit the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple. This is a significant Hindu temple where they perform religious cremations, have many holy men, and it contains many significant religious structures. It was interesting to see, but not as beautiful as the Monkey Temple from the first day of the trip. The holy men were funny and, for a donation, loved to get their picture taken. It is always interesting to see how different cultures practice their religions. This Hindu temple was very different. It had many ancient structures and amazing little buildings, but it was very dirty. It was hard for me to feel a sense of peace (like I associate temples with in my mind) when there is smoke rising in the distance from a current cremation and women are pressing me to buy jewelry. I must say, it was nice to return to our little hotel oasis and have a well-prepared meal and a good night’s rest. In the morning we were able to have breakfast and then time to explore the hotel. We made it up to a roof-top terrace where we were able to bid farewell to Kathmandu in a proper way.

     

Stay tuned for Pokhara, terrifying jeep rides, and Jomsom/Marpha!